March 14, 2017 Daniel

When Harvard Discovered the Sabbath

I was struck by a headline that came across my Twitter feed on Monday.

According to the Harvard Business Review, the key to being happy and not becoming a grump at work is to have a life outside of it.

The article was written by Ran Zilca, the Chief Data Science Officer at Happify. That there is a website called Happify is certainly a topic for someone to explore.

The idea that the key to happiness comes from realizing that there is more to life than work isn’t a new one. The work that God has given us, as significant as it is, doesn’t define our life.

Instead, as Luke Timothy Johnson taught us in Introduction to the New Testament, the Bible’s view on work-life balance isn’t that nuanced – regardless of your job your primary vocation is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Period.

According to Zilca, overworked and overwhelmed workers who haven’t been able to experience a life outside of the one their employers create for them showed much lower levels of gratitude than others.

In sum, being chained to your desk isn’t the best way to become a grateful person.

Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote about this all the way back in 1951: “This is our constant problem – how to live with people and remain free, how to live with things and remain independent.”

The research reminds us that Sabbath is as important today as it has ever been – no matter where or how we work.

In Exodus 20 God gives us the command to the Sabbath: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work…For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.”

The Sabbath isn’t just about taking a break from work. No, we are commanded to take a break because that is what God did, in resting on the seventh day of creation. After all, if God can take a break who are we to say that we can’t?

But it is more than that. In obeying God’s command to observe the Sabbath we realize that despite what we tell ourselves the world will go on just fine without us. By taking a 24-hour break from the constant cycle to produce, we create the space for our souls and our bodies to become renewed. In ignoring the foreman’s whistle we are reminded that what we have isn’t of our own making but instead is the gift of the God who loves us more than we can imagine.

Sabbath helps us discover the way God’s love expresses itself in providing for us. We remember all the ways we have been taken care of and we allow God to teach us and show us again the particulars of grace and mercy.

In short, Sabbath teaches us how to become grateful for all we have been given. We experience gratitude by remembering all we have received from God. We become thankful by recalling all the ways God made a way for us. We experience renewal by recounting all the undeserved gifts that have been dropped into our laps.

This is what Heschel reminds us in the definitive book on Sabbath, appropriately titled, The Sabbath: “The world was brought into being in the six days of creation, yet its survival depends upon the holiness of the seventh day.”

The same could be said for us. Our ability to experience real life depends on our ability to turn our business off. The first step to experiencing contentment is realizing joy doesn’t come from our paychecks. We were created for more than work and life is about so much more than promotions earned or tasked completed.

Whether you trust new data or old wisdom, the lesson seems to be the same. Put your phone away, leave your calendar in your desk and rest and revel in real life.



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